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Hunter Simard and Lauran Zwack recognized for excelling in all areas

With well more than 1,000 students at Monticello High School, it’s certainly possible to blend in and be a part of the crowd. But MHS is full of students that elect to do just the opposite, standing out for their academics, their involvement, their leadership and more. Two of the best examples of that are juniors Lauran Zwack and Hunter Simard, both of whom have been deservedly recognized as Monticello’s nominees for the Minnesota State High School League ExCEL Award.

The ExCEL Award is given annually to one female and one male student in the state of Minnesota. Each school district has the opportunity to nominate one male and one female candidate. Candidates must show strong performances in academics, athletics, leadership, and must show a commitment to volunteering in their community.

If it sounds like a lot, it is. But, somehow, students like Zwack and Simard manage to make it look easy.

Lauran Zwack Both students are three sport athletes. Simard runs cross country in the fall, swims in  the winter, and joined tennis in the spring of his sophomore year. Zwack plays soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and runs track in the spring. The junior is already a captain in basketball and has earned All-Conference accolades and a state appearance in track and field. Zwack also participated in orchestra for two years before picking up guitar this school year. Simard moved from the Symphonia Orchestra to the Philharmonic Orchestra this year and has also been a key member of the Monticello Robotics team the past two years.

Both students stand out academically, while taking on numerous challenges at school including college classes, National Honor Society membership, and more. Simard’s other ventures include being a member of the Magic AV Studio, a Magic Mentor, and a Writing Center Tutor. Both students also make giving back a priority, volunteering through multiple different community organizations. One of Simard’s major volunteer projects was his Eagle Scout Service Project last year, where he helped lead the effort to begin restoring Clearview Elementary School’s outdoor educational forest in Clear Lake by creating a team of scout volunteers to remove approximately 8 acres of invasive plant species. Zwack has given back through a myriad of ways, including her church, time spent as a youth sports volunteer, and work with Unified and Feed My Starving Children. Together, the two Magic student athletes have spent nearly 800 hours volunteering during their first 2.5 years of high school.

So, yeah, they’re a little busy. But they both say they wouldn’t have it any other way. They find the schedule to be mutually beneficial, helping others and themselves at the same time.

“I usually stay involved both to keep myself busy and because I like helping other people,” said Simard.

Both love each and every activity they’re in, but they each have a few things that stand out as highlights.

Hunter Simard Sports are a huge passion for both students, with swimming being the sport Simard looks forward to the most and track and field being Zwack’s top sport. Both appreciate the opportunity those sports give you to quantify your improvement, and to reap the direct reward of your hard work.

They have similar interests in school as well, with both greatly enjoying biology.

“I just look forward to learning about what the world has to offer,” said Simard. “I think it’s really cool learning about how the world works and trying to understand how we fit in.”

The similarities continue in volunteering, where both have them have spent a lot of time giving back to the youth. For Simard it was the Scouts project, while Zwack has piled up hours volunteering with youth sports.

“Working with young athletes has been really fun, especially getting to see them come back and grow year after year,” said Zwack.  

The student athletes say they have greatly enjoyed the support of family as they’ve continued to push for excellence in school, sports, and as humans.

Simard credits his family with both having his back and pushing him through this journey, while Zwack credited her parents and specifically noted her older brother Nick, who also won this award in high school, for setting a good example for her.

The two juniors are proud to represent Monticello High School as nominees for the ExCEL Award.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Zwack, summing up both of their feelings. “Even just being one of the finalists is exciting. So it’s a great honor to be chosen.”

Activities Director Gary Revenig noted that both students are ideal representatives of MHS, and that he was thrilled to see them recognized for the work that they do daily.

“Lauran and Hunter stand out among their peers because of their positive attitude and strong work ethic,” said Revenig. “They lead by example at our school by participating in multiple activities, and still finding time to volunteer within our community. They're both amazing students, and role models for their peers at Monticello High School.”

Zwack and Simard are now both eligible to win the MSHSL ExCEL Award. The winners of that award will be announced via the MSHSL website on Feb. 4.


(Photos by Jared Hines)